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P Steven Sangren

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Name  P. Sangren
Role  Anthropologist

Books  Chinese Sociologics: An Anthropological Account of Alienation and Social Reproduction

Academic advisor  G. William Skinner

Paul Steven Sangren (Chinese: 桑高仁, born April 2, 1946) is a socio-cultural anthropologist of China and Taiwan, and is a leading expert in the study of Chinese religion. He is Professor of anthropology at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1980. His research interests include socio-cultural anthropology, religion and ritual, gender, psychoanalysis, practice, China and Taiwan.


P. Steven Sangren anthropologycornelledusitesanthrofilesSangre

Early life

Sangren was born on born April 2, 1946, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He earned his B.A. from Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University in 1968. After Princeton, he joined the Navy and attended the U.S. Naval Officer Candidate School at Newport, Rhode Island. Subsequently, Sangren was commissioned as a LTJG and served in the Underwater Demolition Team Eleven from 1969 to 1972. In 1972, Sangren headed for Stanford University to pursue his Ph.D in anthropology under the supervision of G. William Skinner. He conducted fieldwork on the Mazu's cult in Taiwan between 1974 and 1977. Sangren received his Ph.D. in January 1980.

Academic career

After completing his Ph.D. in 1980, Sangren became an assistant professor of anthropology at Cornell University. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1986 and to Professor in 1992. Sangren was the associate director of Cornell's East Asia Program between 1988 and 1989, and chair of Cornell's Anthropology department between 1997-2000.


Sangren's research combines insights drawn from structuralist theory with practice-oriented critiques to illuminate Chinese ritual processes and cosmological symbols. His first book History and Magical Power in a Chinese Community (1987), argues that notions of magical power (ling 靈) attributed to supernatural entities embody an implicit ideology of social production and an explicit modality of local historical experience. His second book Chinese Sociologics (2000) extends this earlier work's primarily Marxian and Durkheimian focus on collective institutions and representations to accommodate individual agency and desire - particularly in the arena of Chinese family and gender. The book argues that symbolic alienation – representations that invert the relations between producers and products - plays an important role in constituting a culturally particular "mode of production of desire."

Sangren's current project, tentatively entitled Filial Obsessions, is a broadly framed analysis on the cult of Nezha and critique of Chinese patriliny, mythic narrative, and gender ideology informed by a synthesis of Marxian and psychoanalytic perspectives.

Books and monographs

2000 Chinese Sociologics: An Anthropological Account of the Role of Alienation in Social Reproduction. London School of Economics Monographs on Social Anthropology, Volume 72. London: Athlone Press.

Revised Chinese version published as 2013 Hanren di Shehui Luoji: Duiyu Shehui Zaishengchan Guocheng zhong "Yihua" Jiaose di Renleixue Jieshi 漢人的社會邏輯:對於社會再生産過程中 [異化]角色的人類學解釋. With a new preface.Ting Jen-Chieh, trans. Nankang, Taiwan: Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica.

1997 Myth, Gender, and Subjectivity. Hsin Chu Bank Endowed Lecture Series on Thought and Culture. Program for Research of Intellectual-Cultural History, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Tsing Hua University, Hsin-chu, Taiwan, R.O.C.

1987 History and Magical Power in a Chinese Community. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Articles in journals

2013 “Ontologies, Ideologies, Desire: Comment on LLOYD , Geoffrey. 2012. Being, humanity and under-standing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.” HAU : Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3 (1): 179–185.

2013 "The Family as Instituted Fantasy: Ironies of Chinese Family Dynamics (or, 'Rescuing Kinship Imaginaries from the Symbolic')." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 19:279-299.

2012 Fate and Agency in the Economy of Desire in Chinese Ritual and Society. Social Analysis (special double issue) Economies of Fortune: Luck, Vitality and the Contingency of Daily Life.Giovanni da Col and Caroline Humphrey (eds.) 56 (1-2):117-135.

2010 Lessons for General Social Theory in the Legacy of G. William Skinner for the Perspectives of Gregory Bateson and Terence Turner. Taiwan Journal of Anthropology 8(1):47-64.

2009 'Masculine Domination': Desire and Chinese Patriliny.Critique of Anthropology 29(3):255-278.

2007 Anthropology of Anthropology? Further Reflections on Reflexivity. Anthropology Today 23(4):13-16.

2006 “’Fraught with Implications’, of Turner’s Back-burner.” Critique of Anthropology 26(1):121-130.

2006 (with Dominic Boyer) “Introduction to Turner Special Issue.” Critique of Anthropology 26(1):5-13.

2004 “’Discursive Productivity’ and Its Resistances in Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: Lessons for Anthropology.” Ethos 32(1):1-14.

1998 Renleixue yu taiwan di rentong zhengzhi: Lun difang congjiao di yingxiang [Chinese translation of revised version of "Anthropology and Identity Politics in Taiwan: The Relevance of Local Religion." Fairbank Center Working Papers, Number 15 (January). [misdated January 1995]

Reprinted in Harvard Studies on Taiwan: Papers of the Taiwan Studies Workshop 2:161-191 (1998).] Xianggang shehui koxue xuebao [Hong Kong Journal of Social Sciences] 11 [Spring]:41-72.

1995 "Power" against Ideology: A Critique of Foucaultian Usage. Cultural Anthropology 10,1 (February):3-40.

1993 Power and Transcendence in the Ma Tsu Pilgrimages of Taiwan. American Ethnologist 20:264-282.

1991 Dialectics of Alienation: Individuals and Collectivities in Chinese Religion. Man 26:67-86.

1988 History and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy: The Ma Tsu Cult of Taiwan. Comparative Studies in Society and History 30:674-697.

1988 Rhetoric and the Authority of Ethnography: "Post-Modernism" and the Social Reproduction of Texts. Current Anthropology 29:405-435.

1987 Orthodoxy, Heterdoxy, and the Structure of Value in Chinese Rituals. Modern China 13:63-89.

1987 Cultural Anthropology and Sinology in the United States: An Informal Assessment. Revue Européenne des Sciences Sociales 25, 76:117-125.

1985 Social Space and the Periodization of Economic History: A Case from Taiwan. Comparative Studies in Society and History 27:531-61.

1984 Great Tradition and Little Traditions Reconsidered: The Question of Cultural Integration in China. Journal of Chinese Studies 1:1-24.

1984 Traditional Chinese Corporations: Beyond Kinship. Journal of Asian Studies 43:391-415.

1983 Female Gender in Chinese Religious Symbols: Kuan Yin, Ma Tsu, and "The Eternal Mother. Signs 9:4-25.


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